Tuesday, the 2019 Alabama legislature met for the organization session for the new quadrennium. The new legislature was formally sworn in and elected its leadership for the next four years.
State Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R – Monrovia, was elected as Speaker of the House for another four years without any opponent. McCutcheon was nominated by State Representative Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, and Rep. Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, seconded the motion.
Rep. Rowe said that McCutcheon came into the Speaker’s office, “Under difficult and highly publicized circumstances.”
Rowe praised the job that McCutcheon has done and added, “For all of us God has a plan and Mac has found his mission.”
The House overwhelmingly voted to elect McCutcheon and he was sworn in by Speaker of the House Emeritus Seth Hammett (D). McCutcheon thanked the legislature for his election.
“Let me begin by thanking you for the trust and confidence you have placed in me with this election as Speaker of the House,” Speaker McCutcheon said. “Since first assuming this office a few years ago, I have tried hard to preside in a manner that is as fair and impartial as the good Lord above will allow me. You have my promise that the same fairness and impartiality will be in evidence over the next four years.”
“Before I became Speaker, I served as the House Rules Chairman, a position that I enjoyed,” McCutcheon continued. “It was also one that taught me a deep respect for the legislative process and instilled in me a determination to let it work as it was intended. As a legislator you have two choices before you. You can choose to be guided primarily by your own ambitions, desires, and personal interests, or you can choose to be led by a desire to make Alabama a better place for the constituents you represent.”
“In other words, you can choose to be a flash in the pan, or you can build a lasting legacy of goodwill, trust, integrity, and sound policy,” McCutcheon added. “I’ve made my decision and hope you make the same choice. The members in this chamber will not always agree on everything, and there will be moments of tension and discord. At those difficult moments, do not turn your back and walk away in anger. Instead, come to the table, negotiate in good faith, and help work out the differences.”
“To the new members who will cast their first vote today, let me give you a piece of advice. It’s the key to success in this body, and it can be summed up in one word – relationships,” McCutcheon said. “Get to know your fellow members, develop a foxhole friendship during the legislative battles that are sure to come, always have their back and ask that they always have yours in return. If you develop these relationships, do your homework on the issues, and ask questions you think are in need of being asked during debates – you will be successful in this body. “
McCutcheon emphasized his intent to raise money for infrastructure improvements.
“I want this quadrennium to be defined by four simple words – Building a better Alabama,” McCutcheon continued. “That’s not just a phrase. It’s not just a goal. I want it to be our mission. Our state is already great in many ways, but we are going to use the next four years to literally build a better Alabama for all of its citizens. Building a better Alabama means building better roads and better bridges so Alabamians can travel safely and conveniently and businesses can transport their goods without needless delay. Our sister southeastern states have already taken action to address their transportation needs, and we will quickly fall behind them if we do not act now.”
“Building a better Alabama means building an even better economy with even more jobs and opportunity so every individual who is able to work can work,” McCutcheon told the members. “Alabama already ranks among the nation’s leaders in industrial recruitment and job growth, but I believe we can do even better. Building a better Alabama means building a better education system so all of our children and grandchildren can reach their full potential and one day compete for high-paying, long-lasting 21st Century jobs. Building a better Alabama means building a better standard of ethics that embraces commonsense guidelines while ensuring officials who violate the public trust feel the firm hand of justice and the sharp pain of punishment. The items I have outlined offer us a difficult, complicated, and ambitious mission, but as I look out at all of you today, I am confident it is one we can accomplish together. So let us all agree – Republican and Democrat alike – that the mission to build a better Alabama begins right here, right now, in this chamber.”
“In closing, let me say that I am a man of faith and grace,” McCutcheon concluded. “I believe each of us has been put in a position of leadership to accomplish God’s will, and each one of us has been chosen for a purpose. We are here to govern with honor, and we are here to follow the rule of law. We are here to serve the people of Alabama to the very best of our abilities…so help us God. Thank you for this honor you have given me today.”
Rep. McCutcheon was elected 98 to 1. Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, was the lone “No” vote.
The Republican Party has a commanding 77 to 28 super majority following the 2018 election.
McCutcheon was first elected Speaker of the House in July 2016 after Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, was forced to vacate the position following his conviction on twelve felony counts of violating the state’s ethics law.
McCutcheon is a retired law enforcement officer.
The 2019 regular legislative session will begin in March.
Alabama Legislature plans to return to work briefly March 31
The Alabama Senate is planning to get to only a few big, constitutionally mandated items before calling an end to the year’s legislative session amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but whether they’ll get those tasks accomplished remains to be seen.
Senate leadership is advising lawmakers who fall into “at-risk” categories because of their age or pre-existing medical conditions to not attend the Senate’s meeting when it resumes.
Among the items legislators tentatively plan to tackle before gaveling the session closed sometime in the future are the passage of the Education Trust Fund budget and the General Fund budget, which is the Legislature’s only constitutionally mandated duty.
And “other bills deemed necessary.”
The state Senate’s Plan of Action, obtained by APR Friday, states that the Senate will meet at 2 p.m. on March 31 for its 14th legislative day.
“The intent for this legislative day is to advance only essential attendance items and then to adjourn to a date certain for the 15th Legislative Day. April 28 has been discussed with the House,” the plan reads.
The State Senate’s plan:
“As leaders, it is imperative that we demonstrate that the business of this state carries on in an orderly and systematic fashion while adhering to the recommendations of our public health officials.
The Alabama Senate will meet on Tuesday, March 31 at 2:00 pm at the Statehouse in the Senate Chamber as scheduled. This will be the 14th Legislative Day.
The intent for this legislative day is to advance only essential attendance items and then to adjourn to a date certain for the 15th Legislative Day. April 28 has been discussed with the House.
Below is a draft agenda for Tuesday, March 31.
- Gavel In
- Pledge and Prayer
- Roll Call
- Excuse all Senators
- Points of Personal Privilege
- President Pro Tem Marsh
- Majority Leader Reed
- Minority Leader Singleton
- Adjourn to date certain for 15th Legislative Day.
“It is highly recommended that any Senator that falls into any of the at-risk categories stay away from the March 31 Legislative Day,” the plan advises. “However, each Senator’s personal wish will be accommodated.”
Any Senator or staff member that is ill, has been ill, or has been in the same room of anyone that has had any symptom of illness in the 72 hours preceding the March 31 Legislative Day must stay away from the March 31 Legislative Day, according to the Senate’s leadership.
A disinfecting station will be provided under the canopy of the second-floor rear entrance for each senator to disinfect hands and cell phones as they enter the State House and as they leave the Statehouse.
“We must ensure that we practice all Health Department recommendations while at the Statehouse,” the plan reads.
Social distancing will be accomplished by having senators report to their offices by 1:45 p.m. They will then walk into the chamber as the roll is called and then go back to their offices.
“As much separation as possible is required therefore greetings must be verbal only from a distance of 6 feet or greater,” the plan reads.
The remainder of the session will be held possibly Tuesday, April 28 through Monday, May 18.
This timeframe includes three weeks of the session plus the last day of May 18.
A specific plan for meeting more days than normal will be developed and provided prior to the next legislative meeting date.
$200,000 in campaign finance penalties deposited into State General Fund
Act 2015-495, which went into effect beginning with the 2018 Election Cycle, allows the Secretary of State’s Office to issue penalties to Political Action Committees (PACs) and Principal Campaign Committees (PCCs) that fail to timely file campaign finance reports.
As of today, the Office of the Secretary of State has collected $202,504.20 which has been deposited into the State General Fund to benefit the people of Alabama.
Conversations with the Senate and House General Fund Chairmen are currently underway to determine the best way to allocate these resources to counties.
Anyone who receives a campaign finance penalty is able to appeal their penalty to the Alabama Ethics Commission who has the authority to overturn a penalty.
“When I campaigned for this office in 2014, I made a promise to the people of Alabama that I would work to see that it is easy to vote and hard to cheat in this state. Since then, we have worked to make the electoral process more fair and transparent through requiring the honest reporting of all PACs and PCCs,” stated Secretary of State John H. Merrill.
Anyone who suspects an individual may be in violation of the Alabama Election Fairness Project is encouraged to report suspicious activity to StopVoterFraudNow.com.
Daniels: We have to get help to those who need it most
There is not enough help coming fast enough to the people struggling the most.
That was the message from Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, who was asked on the “Alabama Politics This Week” podcast about the efforts of Alabama’s state government to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If you’ve never been poor, you don’t fully comprehend how things like this affect the poor and the unique problems the poor people face,” Daniels said. “I commend Gov. (Kay) Ivey and her staff for working to try and address this crisis the best they can, but I just think there’s a lack of understanding among all of us in some cases of how people need help.”
To address those issues, at least in part, Daniels is writing a series of letters to different entities, including Ivey, to explain how they can best help the state’s most vulnerable.
Daniels plans to ask the Alabama Supreme Court to order lower courts to halt foreclosure proceedings and evictions for those affected by coronavirus job losses and illnesses. He also will ask Ivey to intervene with banks on behalf of customers who are falling hopelessly behind on mortgage, car loans and other installment loans. And he will seek additional assistance from the state for borrowers with overwhelming student loan debt.
“I want people to understand that I’m not criticizing what’s being done or trying to take control, I just hear from these folks on a daily basis and believe there are some better ways to help people,” Daniels said. “President Trump has addressed student loan debt by knocking the interest of those loans, but what does that really do for a person who just lost a job? Or someone who’s had hours and pay cut? We need to pause those payments and give people substantial forgiveness.
“Otherwise, it’s going to be ugly.”
Democrats in the House also have been putting together potential legislation that could be passed to help the state’s poorest citizens and those who have been laid off from jobs. The specifics of those pieces of legislation weren’t available, but Daniels said they would have the same focus — providing real help for those who need it most.
If those bills are anything like the measures taken during the last economic downturn, you can expect a relaxing of rules on social programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and unemployment assistance programs.
One of the first moves could be overturning a measure passed during the last legislative session that cut the number of weeks of unemployment pay in the state from 26 to 14. State Sen. Arthur Orr sponsored that legislation, and critics argued at the time that a downturn, such as the one that occurred in 2008, could suddenly leave thousands in the state without jobs and job prospects. It passed anyway.
Alabama House cancels March 25 committee meetings due to coronavirus
The Alabama House of Representatives announced on Monday that committee meetings scheduled for Wednesday, March 25 will be cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
The legislative day on March 26 has not technically been cancelled but the House is not expected to have a quorum for that day.
A “quorum” is the minimum number of House members that must be present at any meeting to make the proceedings of that meeting valid. If there are not enough members present, then the meeting cannot proceed and House rules state that the speaker of the House is allowed to set a new date for the meeting.
The Legislature is currently on an annual spring break. The House and Senate are both expected to reconvene on March 31. According to the statement from the House, a joint decision will be made regarding the future legislative meeting days.
The full statement reads:
“The leadership of the Alabama House of Representatives has made several changes to the upcoming meeting calendar because of the coronavirus crisis in the state.
House committees that were scheduled to meet on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 have been cancelled.
The House is scheduled to meet on Thursday, March 26, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. but no quorum is expected that day.
Under House Rule 5(b), if there’s no quorum to conduct business during a state of emergency declared by the governor, the speaker of the House is allowed to set the date and time of the next meeting day.
Both the House and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 and at that time a joint decision will be made as to future legislative meeting days.”
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